Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Marrying Kind, Part 1

Even if women were not allowed to ascend to the throne, they were often the link to a throne for someone else. The rulership might not be theirs, but they could be the "carrier" of the condition for some lucky man—or, in some cases, men.

Zoe mosaic at the Hagia Sophia
Zoe (978 - 1050) was the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VIII. She was Porphyrogenita [Greek: "born to the purple"], meaning she was born to a reigning emperor. This made her special: a link to the Byzantine throne for some man, or a particularly good choice for marriage to an important ruler in another country. A marriage was arranged between her and the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III. In January 1002, the ship carrying Zoe to her intended arrived at Bari, Italy, to discover that Otto had died (possibly from malaria).

She returned to Constantinople. Years later, she was asked to consider marriage to another Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. Zoe and her father rejected this marriage: it was 1028, Zoe was 50, and the groom was only ten years old.

Zoe was not fated never to be a bride; just the opposite, actually. Near the end of 1028, she was married to Romanos III Argyros. We're not completely certain of his origin, but Constantine had chosen Romanos as his successor, and forced Romanos to divorce so that he could marry Zoe and therefore become emperor. Three days later, Constantine died, and Romanos and Zoe ascended to the imperial throne.

Zoe cared about the dynasty, and wanted to have a child as soon as possible. She tried all manner of charms and potions, but pregnancy eluded her, which made relations strained between her and Romanos. He stopped sharing her bed, and reduced her allowance. She started having affairs, which at first he ignored, until she started talking openly about making one of her lovers into emperor.

On 11 April, 1034, after three and a half years of marriage, Emperor Romanos III Argyros was found dead in his bath.

[to be continued]

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